Jiffy feet, don’t fail me now

King Jiffy, one of R. Land’s Jiffy feet. More on that later.

“Jiffy feet” are familiar to all Jaxsons even if they don’t know the name. It’s the accepted local designation for that beautiful layer of dirt and asphalt acquired from walking around barefoot, as when your hankering for a cold drink at the neighborhood convenience store doesn’t quite abrogate your desire to avoid shoes at all costs. This colorful colloquialism is specific to the First Coast, and speaks enough to stereotypes of Florida’s shoe-shirking beach kids, rednecks, and unwindulaxers that it has become iconic.

The unlikely legacy of Huntley Jiffy

Huntley Jiffy logo from a matchbook. Courtesy of Christopher Mark Esing.

This Circle K at 1209 Monument Road in Arlington was formerly a Huntley Jiffy.

The concept of Jiffy feet is timeless and eternal, but the name is of a more recent vintage. It derives from the erstwhile regional convenience store chain Huntley’s Jiffy Food Stores, better known as Huntley Jiffy or simply as Jiffy stores. The Orange Park-based business was founded in 1965 by brothers Louis and William Huntley. It ultimately grew to include 342 stores ranging roughly from Central Florida north to Brunswick, Georgia, with the bulk of the locations in the Jacksonville metropolitan area. The stores were so prolific, and their name so apt, that “Jiffy” became a generic term for this kind of shop in the First Coast. This use persists even today among some long-time Jaxsons.

The word “jiffy”, meaning a very short time (as in, “I’ll get that Slushee in a jiffy”), dates to the 18th century, and the Huntleys weren’t the only ones to use it in the names of convenience stores in the Southeast. Co-Free, founded by James E. Cochran and William L. Freeman in 1965, operates several dozen Jiffy Food Stores in North Central Florida, while Hudson Food Stores has used the Jiffy name for stores in the Nature Coast area since 1970. Jiffy and Jiffy Pak stores, among others, also formerly existed in the Florida Panhandle and elsewhere.

Former Huntley Jiffy store at 1839 East 8th Street on the Eastside, now an In & Out Food Store.

In 1990, the Huntleys sold Jiffy Food Stores to another Jacksonville area chain, Lil’ Champ, and in time the old Jiffys were converted to the new name. In 2001, Lil’ Champ was bought out by the parent company of Kangaroo Express, which was itself taken over by the owners of Circle K in 2014. While there haven’t been Jiffy stores in Jacksonville in decades, their legacy lives on through Jiffy feet, an expression well known even among those who have never heard of a Jiffy store, much less set one tarmac-coated foot inside one.

Jiffy feet catch on

Classic Jiffy feet. Courtesy of Mim Smith Faro.

Reports from locals suggest the term emerged in Jacksonville in the 1970s and was widespread by the early ’80s, when the Huntleys’ Jiffy chain was at the height of its regional ubiquity. Informants indicate that by the 80’s and 90’s, the term was in use in other parts of Florida as well, including Daytona, Ocala, and the Panhandle as far as Pensacola, and even in some other Southern states. At least initially, the term’s geographical range likely correlated with the presence of stores named “Jiffy.” Other colloquial or regional names for the concept exist; elsewhere and at other times, dirty feet have been known as “Kmart feet”, “grocery store feet”, “Winn-Dixie feet”, and “gypsy feet.”

Locals report use of the term all across the Jacksonville metropolitan area and by folks from all walks of life, from Fernandina Beach to St. Augustine and everywhere in between. The expression was in common use in Neptune Beach when I was growing up in the 1980s and ’90s. My Jaxson colleague Ennis Davis, originally from Lakeland, first heard the term in Picketville in Northwest Jacksonville while visiting family friends in the mid ’80s. Another colleague, Mike Field, remembers the term being “omnipresent in life” when he was growing up off Hecksher Drive in the Northside in the ’80s.

A collage celebrating Jacksonville’s contribution to world foot fashion. Courtesy of R. Land.

Some informants have especially amusing stories. Cindy Gould said a picture of her bare feet in front of a “2002” sign during her senior year at Wolfson High School earned her the nickname “Jiffyfeet”. Writer Robert Mann said he heard the term as a barefoot teenager in the 1970s from the agent at the Yukon train station on Jacksonville’s Westside. When someone told Mann and his friends they should wear shoes, the agent replied, “those boys could walk on broken glass like they’ve got soul leather, you know, Jiffy feet!” Sally Kent Peebles said that when she and her husband, both Northeast Florida natives, first met in Denver, she tested whether he was really from the area by asking “do you know what Jiffy feet are?” He did, and they married a few years later.

Jiffy feet saw an upswing in popularity in the 21st century, to the point that many who use the phrase don’t realize that it’s particular to Jacksonville and Northeast Florida. In 2008, it achieved a new level of local relevance thanks to one of Jacksonville’s most unique art projects.

Next page: Art and sole: R. Land’s Jiffy Feet